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July 18, 2014
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU gets final approval; launches special education doctorate


The Middle States Commission on Higher Education has approved a "substantive change" in Slippery Rock University's College of Education accreditation program as the final step in the college's plan to begin offering a new doctorate in special education.

"We now have all of the T's crossed, the I's dotted and have begun accepting applications for the spring semester 2015 cohort," said Keith Dils, dean of the college.

"We started the program's launch first with approval from the University's curriculum committee, then the SRU Council of Trustees and ultimately the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education board of governors. All have signed on and our faculty are ready to begin offering a blended program that will include online classes during the spring and fall semesters and in-person classes during the summer session," he said.

The summer classes, offered on weekends, will be at the Regional Learning Alliance in Cranberry. Dils said, the student cohort for the first class is expected to be in the 20-student range, mostly those with master's degrees already teaching in the field and wanting to move to the next level in their personal skills and knowledge, and those recent master's degree graduate students wanting to better prepare themselves for special education teaching and administration.

"Because this is Slippery Rock University's second doctorate program, we needed to file paperwork and details with the Middle States Commission. The commission gave the go-ahead to the program and now the University is clear to offer additional doctorate programs," Dils said.

SRU's first doctorate program was in physical therapy.

The Commission on Higher Education is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education to conduct accreditation and pre-accreditation activities for institutions of higher education in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, including distance education and correspondence education programs offered at those institutions.

The commission is a voluntary, non-governmental, membership association that defines, maintains and promotes educational excellence across institutions with diverse missions, student populations and resources. It examines each institution as a whole, rather than specific programs within institutions.

Dils said details about the new special education doctorate as well as applications are available from the SRU website:

He said six to eight SRU faculty would be involved in the new doctorate program.

"Our 60-credit doctorate in special education, the only one offered by PASSHE schools, will prepare educators and human service agency workers for leadership positions in the field of special education," he said. "Across the U.S., there is a shortage of qualified school administrators with expertise in special education, a shortage of qualified candidates for positions in special education teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities and a shortage of leaders to manage human service agencies focused on helping children and adults with disabilities in community settings. Our program is designed to begin addressing these shortages and prepare tomorrow's leaders in special education."

SRU's College of Education has been a leader in the special education field for more than five decades. "Our progressive online programs have received national attention and acclaim being named as one of the top 50 online programs in the United States by Newsweek Magazine in 2013. SRU's special education department has been teaching online education for nearly a decade and understands what working professionals need," Dils said.

"The SRU program will focus on two specific areas: content pedagogy, a field of study that will equip college faculty to prepare teachers to be effective in inclusive classrooms, including the regular education classrooms that include students with special needs; and leadership in special education," Dils said.

"The program will be professional in nature, equipping graduates to be practitioners in the field and intelligent consumers of research. Graduates will be prepared to enter special education faculty positions as well as special education leadership positions in the K-12 system or related support service agencies," he said.

The doctorate was developed after seeing that many school administrators and agency leaders were experiencing growing demands on their abilities to lead their programs, Dils said. SRU's doctorate program will meet the growing demand to prepare leaders to enter public schools, and agencies/non-profit organizations, such as the National Council for Special Education, the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Association of Special Education Teachers, the Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center, and the National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education.

"We know this program will bring a systematic study of how to create thriving learning environments for students with autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities and emotional disabilities," Dils said.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.